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Spring Ephemerals!

A Large Flowered Trillium in full bloom. Below it are 2 small white flowers called squirrel corn, and some fading leaves of wild leeks (ramps).

Spring finally came in May after a long, and gloomy April. With it came an explosion of our native spring flowers known as spring ephemerals. Named “ephemeral” meaning “fleeting” or “short lived”, the flowers burst on to the scene with the warming sun, quickly flower and soak up the sun’s energy in the woodlands, store it in their roots and bulbs, before the overhead trees leaf out and block sunshine for the rest of the year. Most of them then go back to sleep underground for the rest of the year until next spring’s warming sun wakes them up again. This year’s season is especially compacted due to the coolness of April. The Dutchman’s Breeches, Hepatica and Blood Root have already finished blooming, as have Trout Lilies in most places. I will give you a small snapshot of what can be found out there but you will have to look quickly because they will soon be back to sleep.

Spring Beauty: a delicate pink wildflower in moist woods.

False Rue Anemone

Blue Phlox next to not yet blooming False Solomon’s Seal and a couple

of Spring Beauties.

Wild Ginger – not related to commercial ginger but its roots have a similar smell. The small red flower near the ground is pollinated by small flies that are usually attracted to decomposing flesh.

The literal “star” of the Driftless show is the Amethyst (or Jeweled) Shooting Star.

It is a species found only in the Driftless area and a few small pockets of the Appalachians. It likes the limestone outcrops and can be found in these areas on many of our hillsides.

One very interesting aspect of some of the spring ephemerals is their use of elaiosomes, which are small structures attached to their seeds that may contain a nutritious mix of oil, proteins, vitamins, and starch. Insects, such as ants, are attracted to these tasty attachments and take them with the seed attached back to their underground nest. After eating the nutritious elaiosome, they discard the seed intact into their underground garbage area that turns out to be the perfect environment for the seed to grow. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement for the flower and the ant. One more reason a complete ecosystem is needed for everything to thrive.

So get out there and enjoy the spring ephemerals while the show lasts!

Mike O’Brien

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